类型:奇幻地区:莫桑比克剧发布:2020-09-23 15:18:36


‘You said that twice before,’ she said. ‘And I don’t believe you care a bit.’

‘Well, I’m sure it’s been a very pleasant if a very quiet evening,’ she said. ‘There’s nothing nicer than to dine, as you may say, tête-à-tête like that and have a little agreeable conversation afterwards, not but what I should have been sorry to have as tough a pheasant as that served at my table, for I declare I could hardly get my teeth into it though it did come on a silver plate, and nothing but a nut and an apple for dessert, though you can get choice grapes so cheap now. But there! what does that matter when you dine with{172} friends? Such a pleasant talk as I had too with Lady Inverbroom, who, I’m sure, is a very sensible and agreeable sort of woman. Nothing very gifted, I dare say, but a great deal of common sense. Common sense now! I often wish it was commoner. But the time passed so quickly while you and Lord Inverbroom were talking together in the dining-room that I was quite surprised when you came in. The soup, too, did you not find it insipid? But I expect Lady Inverbroom does not have the sort of cook that I have always been accustomed to. No jewels either, just that little diamond brooch, which made me feel that I was too fine with the beautiful pearl pendant you gave me for my birthday. Don’t you agree with me, Thomas?’

Then followed the usual acclamation, and it{248} was sweet to the donor’s ears. But sweeter than it all to him was the moment when, as the guests sat down again and he rose to reply, he looked across at the table near the wall, and caught Norah’s eye. Just perceptibly she shook her head at him as if to reproach him with his ingeniousness the day before, but all her face was alight. He had never met so radiant an encounter from her....‘I won’t hush. You did all those things, and what was a girl to make of them except what I made of them? I put the natural construction on them. And you know it.’

He assented to the fact that people were fools. ‘But is that the end of my library catalogue?’ he asked.They had come near to the end of the ridge where the steep descent on to the road began. Fifty yards in front, at present unnoticed by him, was the tussock out of which the bird had risen, and even as they paused, she looking at Bracebridge, and he at her, that carolling and jubilation began again. At once she put down her shielding hand, and laid it on his sleeve, as if he could not hear.

Of a sudden vistas not wholly new to him, but at present very vaguely contemplated, rushed into focus. Some three years ago when, at the age of fourteen, John would naturally have taken his place in the Stores, beginning at the bottom even as Hugh had done, Keeling had determined his destiny otherwise, and had sent him to a public school. In taking this step, he had contemplated the vista that now was growing distinct and imminent. John was to enter a sphere of life which had not opened its gate to his father. The public school should be succeeded by the University, the University by some profession in which a perfectly different standard of person from that to which his father belonged made honourable careers. Putting it more bluntly, John was to be a gentleman. Though there was no one less of a snob than Keeling, he knew the difference between what John had already begun to be and himself perfectly well. Already John walked, talked, entered a room, sat down, got up in a manner quite different from that of the rest of his family. Even his mother, the daughter of the{69} P. & O. captain, even Alice, for all the French, German, and music lessons with which her girlhood had been made so laborious a time, had not—Keeling found it hard to define his thought to himself—a certain unobtrusive certainty of themselves which after three years only of a public school was as much a personal possession of John’s as his brown eyes and his white teeth. That quality had grown even as John’s stature had grown each time he came back for his holidays, and it was produced apparently by mere association with gentlemen. Little as Keeling thought of Mr Silverdale, he was aware that Mr Silverdale had that quality too. He might be silly and affected and unmanly, but when he and John ten days ago had sat opposite each other on Sunday evening, John sick and disgusted, Silverdale familiar and self-advertising, though he appeared to talk about drunkards, it was easy to see that they both belonged to a different class from the rest of them. Keeling admired and envied the quality, whatever it was, which produced the difference, and, since association with those who had it produced it, he saw no reason to suppose that it was out of his reach.

‘But my sister has gone, sir,’ he said. ‘Surely you know that.’

‘I am afraid I am, sir,’ she said. ‘But you kindly invited me to go to the luncheon and the opening of the new wing. I have been working ever since.’‘Well, I do call this a nice family party! All of us at home, and Mamma too!’

Keeling felt, in spite of his business-like habits,{273} that this was unnecessary. True, this was a matter of business, and he should have verified the correctness of Lord Inverbroom’s information. But instead he merely put it into his pocket.Her successor, a rasping young woman with strong knuckles, proved herself very efficient, and before long she retired to the small room adjoining with her sheaf of shorthand notes. Her typewriting machine was already installed there, and soon the clack of the keys proclaimed her a swift worker. For a few minutes only the sound worried him: there was a new touch, a new note, (one that meant nothing to him except that it told him that his work was going forward) to get accustomed to. But very soon he was absorbed in the mass of affairs which his new venture brought with it. There was twelve years’ work before him: here he was in the first hour of it. It stretched endlessly away, but he gave no attention to the enormous perspective. All he desired was to attend to the immediate foreground; he would progress inch by inch, detail by detail, till the perspective began to grow. He would look neither forwards nor backwards.‘All alone with you?’ said Mrs Keeling archly. ‘Well I’m sure! What did you talk about? or is it stupid of me to ask that?’


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‘I won’t hush. You did all those things, and what was a girl to make of them except what I made of them? I put the natural construction on them. And you know it.’‘No; I was going to mention it to you to-day, sir,’ he said.

He looked at her, and saw that her face seemed flushed. That, no doubt, was owing to the heat of the room where she had been working. He pushed a ledger and a pile of typewritten sheets towards her.




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